Author Archives: Robin Sparkles

About Robin Sparkles

Robin Sparkles spent her formative years as a teen popstar in the great country of Canada. She went on to a successful career solving mysteries in space using her mad math skillz. Now retired, Robin can often be found at her favorite bar, Hoser Hut, with her good friend and Canadian treasure, Alan Thicke. She still dons her bedazzled jacket on special occasions.

Like the Fight Club of YA Novels

91cMHG1mVaLSo I’ve been watching a lot of BookTubers lately, and almost all of them have unanimously been telling me for months that I need to read E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. And then, frustratingly, they’ve all said, “but we can’t tell you anything about the book.”

ARGH.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I am here to tell you now that you should totally go read We Were Liars and also that I can’t tell you anything about the book. Yes, just smack me now. I get it.

I feel like lately I’ve been on a series of very high highs and very low lows with books, and this was one of the very high highs. I loved this book. It was beautifully written, and had one of my favorite literary devices – an unreliable narrator. It’s about a group of three teenage cousins and their other teenage friend and  summers spent on their grandparents’ island in New England (I KNOW). And then one summer, everything changes…

Seriously, that’s it. That’s what I can tell you. But you should really go read it, because the writing was just lovely and the story was intriguing. I’ve heard the writing style itself was hit or miss with people actually reading the book, as it was unusual and in many places very stream of conscience. But I listened to the audiobook, where this translated perfectly.

If you’re looking for something a bit different than the standard YA this summer, I’d put this at the top of your pile. Then hit me up – I have some book related feelings I need to discuss.


Why Couldn’t This Be Earl and the Dying Girl? Or Just Earl. Just Earl Would Be Awesome.

Me_and_Earl_and_the_Dying_Girl In my old age, I’ve come to realize that I have very little patience for books that I don’t like. If it doesn’t grab me in the first fifty pages or so, I’ll typically give up and move on to something I might actually enjoy. (Case in point, my recent abandonment of I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, which I found so insanely grating that I actually returned it to Audible.) So I’m kind of angry at myself that I stuck it out for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, because guys, I really really REALLY did not enjoy this book.

The “Me” in the title is a kid named Greg, who is bumbling his way through senior year of high school with one goal – to be completely invisible to everyone around him. He goes about this by becoming friendly, but not friends, with every group on campus in an effort to blend in everywhere but belong nowhere. This has been his M.O. for the majority of high school and it has, for the most part, succeeded in keeping him being noticed by pretty much anyone, even though he thinks that if he doesn’t work SUPER HARD at blending in, the whole system will just fall apart. His only real acquaintance is his “coworker,” Earl, with whom he shares a love for the kind of movies that most high school kids can’t stomach. Together, they spend their free time creating remakes of their favorites with their own twists. Greg’s life is working out pretty well for him (at least in his own mind), until his mother forces him to befriend his classmate Rachel, who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia.

Before I get into this review, I want to say that I understand this is a book about teenagers, and that teenagers are, by and large, narcissistic assholes. They just are. They actually can’t help it. I took a development psychology class in college and was fascinated by the theories on teenagers and where they are in their mental development – namely, that they are unable to see the world beyond their own little sphere of self and those close to them, partially because they lack the life experience and partially because their brains just haven’t developed to that point yet. So yes, I get it, but if I wanted to experience the real, ugly, narcissistic assholery of the average teenager, I’d go hang out at a high school. So perhaps that might explain why being shoved into the head of a character like Greg for the 6+ hours of this audiobook just wasn’t my cup of tea.

One of my main problems with the book is that I feel like the characters were never fleshed out very well (except for Greg, who I frankly could have done with less of). Most of the time, Rachel seems like a tertiary character, and I was surprisingly not all that upset when she (spoiler) died. Greg’s parents, who actually had the potential to be interesting because they were just that odd, were background as well. We know more about the bust size of Greg’s crush than her actual personality, and I forgot until 3/4 of the way through the book that Greg even had sisters.

Earl felt more solid, but something about his characterization made me uncomfortable, even as I found him the most interesting and relate-able character in the book. He was the only major character of color, and it was like the author so wanted to make you aware of this fact that he threw every stereotype in the book at the kid. Poor and not living up to his potential? Check. Absent dad? Check. Alcoholic mother? Check. Gang member little brother who already got a girl pregnant at 13 and deals drugs on the side? Check check checkity check. And yet even with all of this, Earl is still the best character in the whole book, mostly because he remains just as annoyed with Greg throughout the book as I am, only he gets to tell him off for it.

I don’t want to say that Greg doesn’t have a character arc, because he does. He goes from being basically a loner to having someone in his life that he actually cares about. But he never fully commits to the people in his life being in his life. He describes his best friend as a coworker and acquaintance. His interactions with Rachel are enjoyable, but he admits that what he most enjoys about them is that he’s good at making Rachel laugh and that he enjoys the feeling of being good at something. When Rachel inevitably dies, his grief is not over losing someone important in his life, but over losing the opportunity to have someone important in his life. His arc leads him to realize how he has shut people out, but never reaches the satisfying conclusion of letting people in.

And maybe that was my problem from the get-go. Greg’s an ass. I wanted to see him become something other than an ass, but he never quite gets there. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. The author does like to point out, ad nauseum, that this isn’t a typical YA book, don’t expect typical YA book-type revelations to happen, OMG THIS IS NOT A JOHN GREEN NOVEL, etc. So yeah, I get it. And maybe for some people, that’s the wonderful, refreshing thing about this book and why so many people love it – that it shows teenagers in all their self-absorbed glory, the world in all its harshness. It shows that sometimes, we don’t let the dying girl in until it’s too late and have to live with that regret. In that way, it’s an admirable story to tell, but it’s not the story I wanted to read.

ETA: The trailer of the movie is actually what made me want to read this book, and I still think it looks better than the book itself. I’ll be curious to see.


In Praise of Audiobooks

iStock_audiobookI have a new love in my life. It is the all-mighty audiobook, and after only a few months together, I think we’re in it for the long haul.

I should probably clarify that it’s not like I’m all “OMG, what is this new fascinating technology that reads to me??” I used to listen to books on CD all the time, especially when I was in grad school and had a six hour drive home to face at the end of each quarter, but I kind of got out of the habit. After I got my iPhone, I’d listen from time to time to something on one of the free sites, but I usually just preferred a good old fashioned book.

I signed up for an audible.com account a few months ago, when I was faced with a seven hour drive and had reached a gap in audiobooks of the Anne of Green Gables series available in the public domain (that gap, for those interested, is Anne of Windy Poplars, forcing you to skip to the yawn-inducing Anne’s House of Dreams). Sticking with my theme, my first purchase was another L.M. Montgomery book, Emily of New Moon, which I adore (sadly, an audiobook of Windy Poplars doesn’t seem to exist). I had planned to try it out for the free month and then most likely cancel the service. But… I kind of got hooked. I work in a job that requires a lot of focused work, the kind of work that allows me to wear headphones whenever I want. But it’s also sort of repetitive work after a while, and I get bored with music, so podcasts have been a staple in my workweek listening for a long time. (Recommendations? This American Life is just as good as every hipster you know says it is. Ditto Welcome to Night Vale, though in a COMPLETELY different way.) So audiobooks are right up my alley.

The first book I actually purchased? Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling. Otherwise known as that book I already own and have already read and even reviewed right here on this site. So why would I buy an audiobook of it? Because Mindy was reading it, and additional voices were being provided by BJ Novak and Michael Shure. Now, everyone not addicted to the Thursday night NBC lineup just glazed over a little, but for fans of The Office this is GOLD. Hearing Mindy’s own voice and inflections added a whole new level of funny to the book. And so when September rolled around and it was time to redeem another book, I didn’t hesitate – Bossypants it was, read by Tina Fey herself. Another win, as is most things that Tina Fey touches, stands near, or thinks about for more than thirty seconds. I hadn’t read Bossypants and was utterly charmed not only by the book itself, but by Tina’s reading of it. 

I’ve moved away from the funny memoirs by funny women of NBC phase and have since branched out into novels. I listened to most of The Fault in Our Stars during one long day at work, during which I was walking around my office with my earbuds in my ears because I just could. Not. Stop. My latest purchase is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which I highly recommend  as well (look for a review of both soon!). I love the freedom that audiobooks are giving me – letting me listen as I work or run errands or even clean my house. They help make mundane tasks much more interesting.

So if you find yourself with a stack of books on your to-read list and no time to read them, give it a try. Hit up your local library, download one of the public domain apps for your phone, or try Audible – the first month is free (kinda like that first hit of crack is free, just to suck you in). I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love with them too.


Ten Girls to Watch

13260167Dawn West’s post-college life isn’t going exactly as planned. She wants to be a writer, but so far, her only lucrative writing gig is answering questions about fertilizer and grass seed in an online lawn care column. Her ex-boyfriend is now dating the perfect girl – a girl who not only has everything, but is convinced that she and Dawn are instant friends. She can barely afford the run-down Brooklyn apartment she shares with her crazy roommate, and now the roommate is leaving the city and leaving Dawn to pay her half of the rent.

So when she gets the opportunity to work on the 50th anniversary issue of Charmed magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest, she jumps at the steady paycheck and chance to beef up her resume. She’s tasked with finding out as much information about the past winners as possible – five hundred women from all over the country, and from all walks of life, who were all considered the best and brightest of their time.

My coworker suggested Ten Girls to me a few months ago, and I am so glad she did. I loved the story of Dawn trying to navigate those first few post-college years and finding inspiration in the stories and words of the women she encounters. Author Charity Shumway based the novel on her own experience tracking down the fifty winners of Glamour‘s Top 10 College Women and how that one job influenced her. Yes, there’s a romance in there, but the story is much more about Dawn’s struggles as a young adult and finding her way through an overwhelming new world by learning from the incredible winners of the Ten Girls to Watch contest. In the world of chick lit, it’s actually a pretty rare concept for a heroine, and one I really enjoyed and related to. I also loved the look back at the criteria for the selection of winners and how that changed over the years, how the “best dressed” girls of the ’60s transformed into the brilliant minds of the ’70s and beyond – and how even those original girls that were just chosen for their fashion sense had a lot more than a pretty smile and fancy dress to offer. I also loved how each chapter featured a profile of a different winner, bringing them even more to life.

Ten Girls to Watch is a great, fun, easy ready, but still packs a little more substance than the average twenty-something novel. Check it out.


200 Posts, Baby!

We’re back! Have you missed us as much as we’ve missed you??

We took a short break for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that this, right here, this post that you are reading, is our 200TH POST!!

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And we wanted to dance and celebrate and offer up a very special pilgrimage post to mark the event! But then, you know… life.

So we decided that the pilgrimage post will have to wait, because we’re just too excited and we have lots of new books that are just waiting to be reviewed. And then we decided…

GIF DANCE PARTY!!!

Robin Sparkles: I’m more pumped than Carlton listening to Tom Jones and Dwight listening to Motley Crue COMBINED!carlton

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Anastasia Beaverhausen: I’m more excited than Drunk Ron Swanson!

Captain Awesome: I’m happier than The Doctor dancing in a bow tie! Even though bow ties ARE cool.
Dr. Who dancing

Sword Mistress of Melee Island:

Rhymenocerous: I’m more pleased than a seagull stealing chips!

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Princess Consuela:

Joey-Chandler-Dance-In-The-Apartment-On-Friends

And really, isn’t that a better way to celebrate anyway?

Here’s to the next 200!

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Fifty Shades of Stupidity

fiftyYou know that we like to make fun of Twilight around here. It’s one of our favorite pastimes, actually, which should tell you something about the kind of wild lives we lead. So when the whole Fifty Shades phenomenon started, you can imagine the eye rolling, the groaning, the number of times we threw “OMG, you do know that book is Twilight fanfic, right? RIGHT?” at unsuspecting readers who just wanted to talk about how hot Christian Grey is. (BTW, if you choose to take this approach yourself, be prepared to explain what fanfic is and then get called a nerd.)

Finally, we all decided that we should probably read the thing before we could totally commit ourselves to mocking it. So we got a copy of it (don’t ask). And then NOT ONE of these other people on this blog even opened it up except me. I suffered alone, and complained about it a lot. Because Oh. My. God. I’m going to go ahead and tell you that if you’ve never read Fifty Shade of Grey and would like to make fun of it, you go right ahead. I give you permission. In fact, I only made it through about 100 pages of it* and I STILL give you permission. All of you.

Except, of course, these fools here at RR. They are never allowed to complain about anything ever again.

So here, for your amusement and so that you can talk to your friends who are obsessed with this book, is a chapter by chapter breakdown of… well, of the chapters I got through before I started skimming and then deleted the damn thing off my Kindle before it infested my Hunger Games ebooks with terrible smut and even more terrible writing. I’m not going to go into too much of the plot because I think we’ve all been inundated with the plot of these books enough over the past year, but more my general thoughts as I worked my way through this masterpiece of modern literature. If you want the plot, let me allow Pam and Clark from The Office sum it up for you.

Let’s do this, people.

Continue reading


Five Reasons You Should Read & Watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Cover-the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-4206983-357-500the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-poster-405x600

Many moons ago (like, many MANY moons ago, wow is this post overdue), after Sword Mistress tracked down the one theater in Atlanta playing the movie, she and I, along with Captain Awesome and our friend M, went to see the must anticipated (at least by us) movie version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I remember reading this book when it first came out and loving it, but I hadn’t read it since. This is mostly due to the fact that I loaned it out to someone about ten years ago and never got it back. (FYI: Don’t be that person. Return books.) Happily, my local library had many copies, so I got to fall in love with these wonderful characters all over again.

(Another person you shouldn’t be? The person that passes up about fifteen perfectly good seats at Starbucks to come sit right next to me, the chick alone in the corner on her computer, and then proceed to have loud cell phone conversations. FIFTEEN OTHER SEATS.

Ahem. Sorry about that.)

This was going to be an analysis of how the book is awesome and the ways in which the movie did or did not stack up, but honestly, the movie was FANTASTIC. Seriously, one of the best book adaptations I’ve ever seen. It helped that the book is so short, meaning that there wasn’t much that needed to be cut. It also helped that author Stephen Chbosky was at the helm, both writing and directing it and pretty much making sure that his baby didn’t suffer in its transition to the big screen. The movie comes out on DVD on February 12 and the book is available pretty much everywhere, so here are five reasons why I think you need to pick up both and have yourself a Perks-fest.

1. The book is awesome. If you’ve never read the book, please go remedy that right now. It is one of the best books about life in high school I have ever read. For such a small book, Chbosky really digs into his three main characters and fleshes them out. It would be easy to shove many of the characters into the typical high school stereotypes, but Chbosky does an excellent job of sidestepping this and instead letting his little band of misfits shine as individuals. I won’t say too much about the story because if you’ve never read it, you really should go into it without knowing anything, but I promise it won’t be a book you forget.

movies_perks_of_being_a_wallflower_32. The cast is awesome. Being the Harry Potter nerds fans that we are, we were beyond thrilled to see Emma Watson in her first post-Potter roll. I’ll admit that she was not the picture I had in my head of Sam, but she did an amazing job of capturing the character and making Sam her own. But as much as I love Emma, it was Logan Lerman as Charlie and Ezra Miller as Patrick who stole the show for me. Both were amazing, and made me fall in love with the characters of Charlie and Patrick even more than I originally was. Lerman captured Charlie’s shyness and complexity so perfectly – there was an underlying layer of tension in everything he did, and yet you could see his big heart shining through the whole time. And Miller as Patrick was equally outstanding, conveying both the character’s charm and pain beautifully.
3. The supporting cast is awesome. In particular, Mae Whitman was just perfect as Mary Elizabeth, balancing a fine line of keeping the character real and sympathetic while still making her annoying enough that you understand why she’s not the girl for Charlie. Also, PAUL RUDD.

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-12-600x3994. This scene. How could you not want to watch this scene?? Also, ALL THE MUSIC EVER IN THIS MOVIE. But yeah, this little dance number is basically the standard to which I am now holding every high school dance scene in every high school movie until the end of time. (It also may have been one of the scenes where Captain A, who has been known to leave the room during particularly awkward moments on The Office, buried her face in her shirt because she was in the middle of the row and could not physically leave the theater. Which makes me love it even more.)

5. “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” Hands down, one of my favorite lines from any book EVER. Is there any line that more perfectly captures the feeling of being sixteen?

So go read it! And watch it! And then come back and we can talk about our feelings and sob together.